Balancing aspiration and authenticity: Staying relevant in the Gulf luxury market

Genre-mashing, humour, entertainment and a distinctive digital voice have emerged as vital strategies for reaching digital natives, and the Gulf region is no different. Given TikTok’s rising role as an entertainment provider, it’s no wonder that brands such as Hugo Boss are now turning into TikTok native creators such as Khaby Lame, originally known for his comedic videos and meme-worthy facial expressions, more than his sense of fashion. By using these creators as ambassadors, luxury labels can benefit from the vast audiences they command without compromising on their high culture positioning. The Twins Hadban, who have worked successfully with many luxury brands on TikTok campaigns, believe that “the role of digital marketing is not slowing down any time soon and will reach a point where it will become the number one marketing tool.”

Though traditional entertainment vehicles (such as film, art, music, etc.) have always been central to luxury marketing, the participatory nature of TikTok has prompted the rise of grassroots and experiential entertainment formats (eg hashtag challenges) that encourage movements across a community . When it comes to sales conversions, Aleena Khan, co-founder and head of marketing and branding at CTZN Cosmetics, cites the Mall of Emirates TikTok campaign #MYMOEDance as a good example of an initiative that is playful and easy to participate in. “It featured a key influencer in the region, Karen Wazen, who has also made the effort to build out a TikTok presence,” Khan says. “I think it was smart for Mall of Emirates to invest in a brand song — [also] known as a jingle — since audio dominates trends on TikTok.”

One tool that really makes TikTok stand apart is its approach to audio, and using it in smart ways to increase the impact and authenticity of content. TikTok’s Bischoff believes the app has levelled the playing field and put a studio in everyone’s pocket, complete with music effects and editing tools. “Whether through music or a voice-over, luxury brands are conscious of how powerful audio can be on TikTok. Sound is a key reason as to why TikTok captures the audience’s attention in its entirety. Dior embodies this perfectly through their Spring/Summer 2022 campaign, that is, in essence, a series of perfect dance edits to Daft Punk’s ‘Around the World’.”

Homegrown retail spaces both online and offline that work closely with international luxury have realised the value of TikTok, but brands must ensure that the content created is tailored for the entertainment app. As Ounass’s Brunais says, “The way people consume and expect content is really TikTok specific. It has to be dynamic, engaging, quite raw and supported by a great soundtrack. A copy-paste made for a different platform might not resonate as well.”

Key takeaways

While international brands seem aware of the potential of TikTok, the local relevance in the Gulf region is an opportunity that luxury brands have yet to fully capitalise on. “This seems like the beginning for TikTok, the app has a massive potential in the market,” Cartier’s Benyahya says. “It is recording the fastest growth ever seen for a social app which makes TikTok ‘the place to be’ for all brands in order to not miss out on visibility, especially to connect with the younger Gen Z audience. Brands can be bold in their communication on this app which has specific codes, they can create trends.”

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